5 Fast Tips for a Better Brief

Share this article

The more project briefing meetings you have, the better you get at taking a brief. That said, it’s easy to get lazy with briefings once you think you have the process nailed. Whether you’re just starting out, or you suspect you might be asleep at the wheel, these tips should help you make your next brief better.

1. Get information in advance

Some clients like to treat the brief like a big surprise party. “Come in,” they say excitedly. “We’ve got a project we want to brief you on!” Don’t leave it at that. The more information you have to review before the brief, the more thorough you can be in your questions about it, and the less time it’ll take you to get up to speed. So ask the client for information—a written brief document, wireframes or mockups—whatever they have that you could review so you’re armed and ready when you get to the brief.

2. Start with standard questions

Few experienced freelancers don’t have a set of standard questions that they use as a basis for briefings. If you don’t have a list like this, develop one. These questions can guide the briefing conversation, give you starting points for ad hoc, project-specific lines of questioning, and ensure you don’t miss any of the critical information you’ll need to put together a pitch or estimate.

3. Don’t go it alone

In my experience, one-on-one briefings are rarely as successful as briefs that involve multiple parties from the client side. If you work with a team, consider taking the most appropriate colleague from your side, too. In any case, a briefing that involves more than two people will usually be more thorough. Often, the brief that’s presented will be held to more stringent account, particularly if you have multiple client reps involved. How many times have you been in a briefing where your client contacts start discussing—or disagreeing over—some finer point of the brief? If you encourage it, the brief can be a constructive process of refinement. This, in turn, can reduce the chances you’ll get off-track as you begin work.

4. Always ask why

As I just alluded, a brief isn’t just about diligently taking notes and nodding your head. By using the magic word—”Why?”—you can unearth all kinds of hidden motivations and undercurrents of perception that can help you to:
  • understand where the client sees the project’s value
  • get insight into what they really want the project to deliver—and why
  • get a clear picture of the client’s understanding of what you can and can’t do
  • clarify why the client has certain expectations.
This information can be invaluable in helping you to provide the best solution, value-add, up-sell, and exceed the clients’ expectations. If you think continually asking why could get annoying, try phrasing it differently: “Can you explain the thinking behind that?” for example, or “What are the motivations for that decision?”

5. Get it approved

The point of taking a brief is to ensure that you’re all on the same page about the project. So even if you’re not using the information as a basis for an estimate—perhaps you’re on a retainer with this client, and they’re just giving you a standard work request—make a point of regurgitating the brief information and getting it approved by them. If you don’t do this, you’re making an assumption that your interpretation of their requests is correct. You also risk having them change their minds down the track, or finding yourself in the unenviable position of having the client announce that the work you’ve delivered isn’t what they want. Presenting the brief information in some format for signoff before you start work is a good way to make sure there are as few grey areas as possible for disagreement later on. Depending on your specialty, as part of this approval process, you might consider tying in a little prototype or sample so you and the client both agree on the kind of output that’s expected. I’m a big fan of this approach—it doesn’t take me long, it’s chargeable work, and it can save a lot of headaches down the track. This is the basic checklist I use to make sure each brief I take is as accurate and clearly communicated as possible. What advice can you add from your experience? Share your advice with us in the comments. Image courtesy stock.xchng user iprole.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Writing a Better Brief

What are the key elements to include in a brief?

A brief should include a clear objective, a detailed description of the project, the target audience, the desired outcome, and any specific requirements or constraints. It should also include a timeline and budget. The brief should be concise, clear, and comprehensive, providing all the necessary information for the project to be executed successfully.

How can I make my brief more effective?

To make your brief more effective, ensure it is clear, concise, and comprehensive. Use simple language and avoid jargon. Clearly state the objective of the project and provide a detailed description. Include any specific requirements or constraints, and provide a timeline and budget.

What is the importance of a target audience in a brief?

The target audience is a crucial element in a brief as it helps to guide the direction of the project. Knowing who the target audience is can help in tailoring the message, tone, and approach of the project to ensure it resonates with them and achieves the desired outcome.

How can I ensure my brief is understood by all stakeholders?

To ensure your brief is understood by all stakeholders, use simple language and avoid jargon. Clearly state the objective of the project and provide a detailed description. Include any specific requirements or constraints, and provide a timeline and budget. It may also be helpful to provide a summary or overview at the beginning of the brief.

What should I do if I have a tight budget for my project?

If you have a tight budget for your project, it’s important to clearly state this in the brief. This will allow the team to plan accordingly and prioritize tasks. It’s also important to be realistic about what can be achieved within the budget and to manage expectations accordingly.

How can I ensure my brief is concise yet comprehensive?

To ensure your brief is concise yet comprehensive, focus on including only the most important and relevant information. Avoid unnecessary details and keep the language simple and clear. Use bullet points or headings to organize information and make it easier to read.

What is the role of a timeline in a brief?

A timeline in a brief provides a schedule for the project. It outlines when each task should be completed and helps to ensure the project stays on track. It also helps to manage expectations and provides a clear indication of when the project should be completed.

How can I make my brief more engaging?

To make your brief more engaging, use a conversational tone and include visuals where possible. This can help to make the information more digestible and interesting. Also, try to connect with the reader by explaining why the project is important and what impact it will have.

What should I do if there are changes to the project after the brief has been written?

If there are changes to the project after the brief has been written, it’s important to communicate these changes to all stakeholders as soon as possible. Update the brief to reflect these changes and ensure everyone is on the same page.

How can I ensure my brief is effective for a diverse team?

To ensure your brief is effective for a diverse team, use inclusive language and consider different perspectives. Be clear about roles and responsibilities and ensure everyone has the information they need to complete their tasks. Also, be open to feedback and willing to make adjustments as needed.

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
View Author

Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

briefingBusinessclientsfreelancesmall business
Share this article
Read Next
Get the freshest news and resources for developers, designers and digital creators in your inbox each week
Loading form